Health concerns drive growing organic market

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Demand for organic food is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years
Demand for organic food is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years

Related tags Organic food

A growing awareness about healthier foods and lifestyle diseases like diabetes and an expanding expat population are fuelling demand for organic food products in the Middle East.

According to Nadim Al Fuqaha, managing director at Global Links, there has been a consecutive year-on-year rise in the retail uptake of organic food products in the Middle East, particularly UAE and Saudi Arabia, creating a market worth $300m.

“Growth of natural and organic trade in the Middle East has picked up momentum every year and the prospects for growth have entered a strong and promising phase as more and more consumers aware of health benefits take to these products,”​ said Al Fuqaha.

Last week, Al Fuqaha and Global Links hosted MENOPE 2013 in Dubai, an annual event showcasing organic food and beverage products.

Meanwhile, a study from research firm Euromonitor International pegs the organic food and beverage uptake in the Middle East and North Africa somewhat lower, at just over $11m in 2002, and it says it has now topped $70m and is poised to grow to some $120m by 2017.

This uptake mostly is being fuelled by growing demand from a population that increasingly wants healthier food choices.

As previously reported by FoodNavigator​, the Middle East is one of the worst affected regions in the world when it comes to the prevalence of diabetes, with Saudi Arabia and UAE two of the most affected.

This trend is also being supported heavily by the region’s ever-growing expat population that is more open in their attitude towards organic food.

Kunal Udawat, an Indian expat in Dubai, told FoodNavigator that he has seen the ‘eat organic’ and ‘eat local’ movement in the Emirate grow stronger over the last two years, especially in the restaurants space.

“Many restaurants are focusing on low-calorie and organic food. Especially the ones catering to expats,” ​he said.

According to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the population in the GCC is expected to cross the 50-million mark, growing at a CAGR of 4.6% from 2011 to 2015—and per capita food consumption is expected to rise by 2.1% in the same period.

Kartik Dwivedi, partner at Mumbai-based Dassler Business Intelligence, told FoodNavigator that most of this population is going to come from the slowing regions of North America and Europe as well as parts of Asia.

“They are definitely going to influence the food consumption trends going forward. One of them is going to be that of eating food that is clean and healthy right from the source to the table,”​ he said.

“The region is also blessed with relatively higher per capita incomes when compared with other emerging markets and so people there are not as hesitant as those in Asia or parts of Europe when it comes to paying 5% to 20% more for organic food,”​ he added.

Local production gets support

But governments in the region have taken notice of this growing trend and are offering support. In the UAE, the Ministry of Environment and Water (MEW) offers agricultural inputs to organic farmers at a half the price of the market value, including organic fertilizers, organic seeds and organic pesticides.

According to the MEW, the number of certified organic farms in the UAE has risen to a total of 39 organic farms this year, which covers 3,920 hectares across the UAE from 218 hectares in 2007.

Saif Al Shar’a, assistant undersecretary at the MEW, said at MENOPE that the most popular crop among consumers is cucumber. “We have seen a growing trend for organic vegetables, not only among expatriates but within the Emirati community as well.”

 “The UAE currently produces 62 organic crops that comprise tomatoes, eggplants, dates, cucumbers, and a number of legumes,”​ he said, adding that there are three farms producing organic livestock produce.

According to Dwivedi, however, most of the region’s organic food demand will be met by the way of trade and imports as the region’s domestic organic food production capability is still limited.

“In the organic food trade, it is mostly seen that imports come from the closest possible region to the market. Therefore, I expect companies in Eastern Europe, Turkey and South Asia to be looking at this market very seriously.”

Related topics Middle East

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